By Quani Burnett, she/her
Mutual aid—a system of reciprocal resource and service exchange for mutual benefit—is a common thread of interest tying together Mask and Meals co-founders Gabe Rondón and Michaè De La Cuadra.
“Mutual aid allows us to create and envision a world where we subvert those systems [of capitalism], address our material realities, and show that it is possible for us to live safely if given the resources,” De La Cuadra and Rondón tell me. Community-based sharing and the redistribution of resources are deeply ingrained in their work at Mask and Meals LA, a trans-led collective that seeks to support trans lives through food, clothing, and mask distributions.
Mask and Meals LA started in 2020 as a direct response to the pandemic, when it became especially apparent who lacked resources such as food, clothing, and masks. De La Cuadra and Rondón saw this as an opportunity to put their talents to use. Rondón is a chef who began cooking meals for the homeless along skid row. De La Cuadra learned to sew masks for her family and friends. Since beginning Masks and Meals LA, the two have distributed over 1,200 meals.
They believe in the power of people, and it is that power that enables the work they do collectively and individually.
Rondón is a man of many talents, all which work to serve those often oppressed or otherized. A self-identified trans masc barber, he provides services on a sliding scale, meaning he is able to reach more individuals. He dreams of opening up a fine dining experience for the homeless—an admirable and inspiring goal that seeks to tear down stereotypes that often dehumanize those who are unhoused.
De La Cuadra co-founded Transcelestial, which she describes as “a virtual uprising to fund and support our displaced and unhoused Queer, Trans Black, and Indigenous Family.” Through Transcelestial, with a sense of urgency to reclaim humanity for all, she holds space, celestial experiences of poetry, art, and music.
Though the duo are each clearly movements in their own right, they are a true force when working together. It’s through their partnership that they are able to meet the needs of trans lives that have long been oppressed, stigmatized, and discriminated against. It is why both De La Cuadra and Rondón are passionate about trans visibility and representation to combat those negative aforementioned experiences.
“Trans visibility is important for our youth because they can find people who they see themselves in. They can find inspiration in other trans people’s stories,” says De La Cuadra.
“It’s beautiful to see so many trans kids now having the courage to live in their truth from such a young age,” says Rondón, “Because now there are so many visible trans people to relate and look up to.”
When I asked them what’s next for them, they both passionately expressed their desire to serve the community; for Rondón, that’s envisioning a wellness center for queer people of color, and for De La Cuadra, it’s simple: “To see my community in pure joy and having the opportunity to rest,”—a gentle reminder that rest is an act of revolution and resistance.Mask and Meals LA is sustained by community donations and volunteers. Support their work by following on Instagram to stay up to date on current distributions, sign up to volunteer, or donate directly via venmo @maskandmealsla.